ABUSE OF POWER….Last night I provided five examples of intelligence experts who had dissented from mainstream views about Iraq’s WMD but whose dissents had been kept classified by the Bush administration until after the war. These five examples are only a small part of the case that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but I think they’re the most important part of the case. Here’s why.
Earlier this year we went through a long (and often tedious) debate about Social Security. George Bush and his supporters said a lot of things that liberals found outrageous, and we said so loudly and persistently. If we thought conservatives were leaving important facts out of their arguments, we pointed it out. They did the same to us. In the end, it was a loud but fair debate.
This could happen only because all the relevant facts were available to everyone. The Social Security Administration publishes annual reports for all to see. Its economists publish detailed actuarial models. The CBO publishes reports, OMB publishes reports, and third parties publish reports. Everything was out in the open. That’s the way most public debates work.
But there’s one area where this isn’t true: national security. On this single topic, the president has absolute control over which information is made public and which isn’t. This gives him a much greater responsibility to present the facts fairly than it does in other debates, where his spin, no matter how outrageous, can be spun right back by opponents who know everything he does.
In the debate on Iraq, Bush acted as both prosecutor and judge. He made his case as strongly as he could ? which is fine ? but he also withheld crucial information that would have allowed his opponents to make their case as strongly as they could ? which isn’t. In short, in order to further his own political aims, he abused his power to decide what information remains classified and what doesn’t.
In a democracy, this is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for the president to decide that only information favorable to his own case can be part of the public discourse. But all too often, that’s what happened in the runup to the Iraq war.
Arguing the case for war passionately was fine. Exercising the executive’s classification power to suppress information solely because it was inconvenient to his argument wasn’t. George Bush should be held accountable for this abuse of power.